Statement made on 24 April 2012 by Senator Rose-Marie Losier-Cool (retired)
Hon. Rose-Marie Losier-Cool:
Honourable senators, it is with great pleasure that I participate today in the debate on the inquiry raised by my colleague and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, the honourable Senator Cowan. He has chosen to recognize the 30th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, one of the fundamental texts of our federal body of law. I would like to thank him and commend him on his eloquent and inspiring speech.
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enshrined in the new Constitution Act in 1982. This Charter guarantees that official language minorities in Canada have rights that we now all take for granted.
I would like to remind you in particular of the provisions of the Charter that deal specifically with my province, New Brunswick, and the minority that I represent in this House, the Acadians. These provisions mainly concern our country's official languages.
Subsection 16(2) of the Charter states that French and English are the official languages of my province and that they have equality of status as to their use in institutions of the legislature and government of New Brunswick. Therefore, this subsection, which is confirmed in subsection 20(2) of the Charter, gives Acadians anywhere in my province the right to be served in French by the Government of New Brunswick.
Section 16.1 of the Charter was added in 1993, after the 1990 Supreme Court ruling in the Mahé case, which dealt with the right of language minorities to be involved in the administration of their children's education. This new section repeats that the English and French linguistic communities in my province have equality of status and equal rights and privileges. The Charter gives Acadia the right to its own distinct educational and cultural institutions needed for its preservation and promotion.
This new section 16.1 also gives the provincial government the constitutional mandate to protect and promote the status, rights and privileges of these two main linguistic communities in our province. This will give you a better understanding of Acadian protests in recent years against attempts by the two past provincial governments to undermine everything we have accomplished in terms of health boards, management of school districts and French education, especially in immersion.
The Charter also includes other provisions that affect my province in terms of official languages. For instance, subsection 17(2) grants all MLAs in New Brunswick the right to express themselves in the official language of their choice. Subsection 18(2) stipulates that all documents produced by the legislature of New Brunswick, including journals, must be published in both official languages, with both language versions being equally authoritative. Subsection 19(2) states that either English or French may be used by any person in, or in any pleading in or process issuing from, any court of New Brunswick. The defendants in the Louis Mailloux case would have loved to have had that right, I can assure you.
Honourable colleagues, if you recall my speech from January 31 on the evolution of French education in New Brunswick, you already know that our Acadia did not wait for the proclamation of the Charter before taking control of its own future.
However, there is absolutely no question that the Charter gave Acadians an enormous boost that has allowed us to consolidate our gains when it comes to speaking French. And as Senator Cowan so aptly put it, the Charter enshrined in our country's Constitution the notion of equal status for both official languages and for the two main language communities of our country — and of my province. That is why Acadia and New Brunswick owe a debt of gratitude to the Charter, and I wish to thank the visionaries who drafted it.
Please click here to read the full text of this debate